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‘They’re allowing people to suffer’: Cells reached 100+ degrees on multiple days in July at Perryville prison

The records, newly obtained by the 12News I-Team, reveal that one cell bock had a high of 109 degrees on July 26.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Every single day from July 17-31, certain cells at Perryville prison were higher than 95 degrees.

On 11 of those days, the Arizona Department of Correction, Rehabilitation and Reentry's own records show some cell blocks were documented in the triple digits – the highest being 109 degrees on July 26.

The women’s prison in Goodyear has struggled with extreme heat concerns this summer, with dozens of inmates and their loved ones reaching out to the I-Team worried for their safety. The I-Team has requested several documents to better understand the situation and recently received all of the temperature logs for July 2023.

RELATED: Cooling systems fail at Perryville prison in Goodyear amid record heat wave

The buildings with the most 100+ degree days were the Lumley Unit, followed by the Santa Cruz Unit. Neither have AC. They only swamp coolers. Those two units house an estimated 1,300 incarcerated women.

"They’re allowing people to suffer when they don’t have to," said Kurt Hall in an interview with 12News.

Hall said he's close to a woman serving a life sentence at Perryville and has been messaging her about what she's seeing inside.

"People passing out, people fainting," Hall shared.

We first brought these concerns to Prison Director Ryan Thornell on July 19, before he visited Perryville to address the heat.

RELATED:  Arizona Corrections Director responds to heat concerns at Perryville prison

At the time, he explained that cooling systems can break down and cause high temperatures - but insisted they were always regularly fixed.

In an emailed statement Monday, ADCRR admitted that some of the evaporative cooling systems, or swamp coolers, are "struggling to maintain adequate temperatures" inside, "causing temperatures to reach or exceed one hundred degrees at the peak of the outdoor heat.”

A spokesperson goes on to say that those temperatures are “excessive” and that they have new relief strategies in place, published Sunday.

Director Thornell has not agreed to sit down for another interview – but has gone to Perryville, his visit documented by the prison’s cameras on July 21.

He reportedly talked to inmates and checked cell temperatures himself and afterward, ordered changes like free ice for inmates and misters in the yards.

RELATED: Inmates offered free ice amid concerns over 'unbearable' heat in cells at Perryville prison

"He’s not one to allow people to suffer like that," said state Sen. Brian Fernandez.  

Sen. Fernandez is a member of the state’s new prison oversight commission.

"Our next meeting, I’m positive that we’re going to be talking about this," he stated. "The state is going to have to make some big decisions on what to do with the prisons.

The temperatures recorded in units with air conditioning were typically in the 70s or low 80s, according to ADCRR records.

But for the cells with swamp coolers, the ice and misters might offer heat relief to inmates. But they haven’t prevented triple-digit temperatures in certain cells, which persisted after these temporary solutions were put in place.

"In the past that wasn’t a priority," Fernandez said when asked about air conditioning. "Retrofitting old prisons with air conditioning is just costly."

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said that air conditioning for the units at Perryville with swamp coolers is in the budget and should be completed by December 2024.

"We're going to have more hot summers like this," Fernandez said. "I think we need to plan for it."

The I-Team has heard from a few prison staff members who have shared their concerns about conditions and how heat is being handled. We’ve requested records for any incidents on-site involving heat, but the request has not yet been fulfilled.

The Department of Corrections spokesperson did not answer specific questions about the prison's temperature-checking policy and the welfare of inmates and staff. Instead, a spokesperson shared an updated strategy plan posted Sunday that focuses on providing heat relief – including more showers, relaxed dress codes, and more out-of-cell time.

The full emailed statement from ADCRR is below:

ADCRR continues to work through the challenges presented by the ongoing historic heat wave impacting much of Arizona. In coordination with Governor’s Katie Hobbs Office, and her recent Heat State of Emergency, ADCRR is committed to using all necessary resources available to ensure the health and safety of our staff and inmate population, which remains our top priority.

ADCRR administration communicates daily with leadership across our correctional complexes and offices, ensuring all are up to date about the extreme heat impacts, outdoor temperature forecasts, and any immediate plans for mitigation. Additionally, leadership in our state complexes report temperatures inside housing units, common areas, and any impact on inmates or staff.

In the areas of the state most impacted by the extreme heat, we are finding that some of the evaporative cooling systems are struggling to maintain adequate indoor temperatures, causing temperatures to reach or exceed one hundred degrees at the peak of the outdoor heat. We consider these temperatures to be excessive, which is why we have implemented several new mitigation strategies over the last 30 days, to offset the heat for staff and the inmate population. These new strategies differ from those used during previous summers by providing more immediate relief. Please find the latest actions ADCRR has taken in our Excess Heat Safety and Relief Strategy here: Excessive Heat Safety and Relief Strategy (8/13/23) | Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry (az.gov).

The Department remains focused on installing more sustainable cooling solutions for impacted complexes and housing units. As we have reported previously, we expect considerable progress in these efforts this year and next as we actively work on cooling system projects across the state.

Thank you again for your inquiry.

ADCRR Media Relations

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